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Spurs Udoka sits, learns

On the NBA
by: FERNANDO MEDINA, Since leaving the Blazers as a free agent, Ime Udoka has been a little-used reserve with the San Antonio Spurs. Still, he believes he has a future with the Spurs, who favor unselfish play.

His playing time has been limited, but Ime Udoka chooses to look at life with the San Antonio Spurs on the bright side.

The former Jefferson High and Portland State standout is at the end of the bench for the defending NBA champions after starting all last season with Portland in what amounted to his rookie year.

'It's tough not playing after playing a lot last year,' says the 6-5 swingman, who averaged 8.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 28.6 minutes a game for the Trail Blazers a year ago. 'But talking to my teammates, that's the way it goes with guys in their first year here.'

After signing a guaranteed two-year, $2.08 million free-agent contract with San Antonio, Udoka saw plenty of duty in the preseason, averaging 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. He played a major role off the bench in the regular-season opener against Sacramento, sinking 3 of 4 from 3-point range and collecting 14 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. The next game, he played five scoreless minutes against Houston, followed by a DNP-CD (did not play-coach's decision) against Miami.

Udoka - who says he is fully recovered from April arthroscopic surgery on his right knee - has not hit double figures in points since then. Only three times has he seen double-digit minutes, and he has had seven DNP-CDs. He is averaging 2.6 points, 1.5 rebounds and 9.4 minutes, shooting .340 from the field and .261 on 3s.

The biggest impediment to playing time is the talent in front of him at shooting guard and small forward - veterans Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry and Michael Finley. The next thing is familiarity with coach Gregg Popovich's offensive and defensive sets.

'Pop was honest with me during the recruiting process,' Udoka says. 'He said it takes a year to get the system under your belt. We have hundreds of plays and variations. I'm just getting up to speed with guys who have been doing this forever.'

Bowen is 36, Barry turns 36 this month and Finley is 34. Udoka, 30, is a kid by comparison and has considerably more tread left.

'Pop said with some of those guys retiring or getting older, playing time could open up for me,' Udoka says. 'I look at myself as one of the younger guys here. My body feels like I'm in my mid-20s.

'Jacque Vaughn didn't play much last year and Matt Bonner didn't play at all, and they're both in our rotation. Tony Parker told me, 'This is a learning year; no pressure. Next year, when Pop is screaming at you, that's when you have to be ready.' '

When it became apparent Portland wouldn't re-sign him, Udoka drew up a list of desired destinations, with the Spurs at the top.

'They were as interested in me as I was in them,' he says. 'It was mainly their unselfish style of basketball that intrigued me. Nobody cares about who takes credit. It's all about winning, sharing the ball. That's exactly how I want to play.'

Five other teams came in with offers - Seattle, Cleveland, Memphis, Boston and Miami - but Udoka chose San Antonio. He's still glad he did, though he'd prefer to have remained a Blazer.

'I definitely miss Portland,' says Udoka, who played in Europe and nearly every minor league before finally reaching the NBA full-time last year at 29. 'It's funny. After all those years on my journey to get to where I'm at, being at home last year spoiled me a little bit.

'Not only did I get to play for the team I grew up dreaming to play for, I developed a real bond with the coaches and teammates. And I got to be around my family and friends, check out high school games, enjoy hanging out in my hometown … those things are hard to give up.'

• An update on the other ex-Blazers in the NBA (years with Portland in parenthesis):

Shareef Abdur-Rahim (2003-05), Sacramento: Underwent season-ending knee surgery Dec. 8.

Derek Anderson (2001-05), Charlotte: 3.1 points and 14.2 minutes in nine games off the bench. Missed three weeks in November with an ankle sprain.

Matt Carroll (2003-04), Charlotte: 9.0 points and 22.4 minutes off the bench while shooting .420 from 3-point range.

Antonio Daniels (2002-03), Washington: 8.2 points and 5.1 assists, ranks eighth in the NBA in assists/turnover ratio. He is out two to four weeks with a sprained knee.

Dan Dickau (2003-04 and 2006-07), L.A. Clippers: 5.8 points, 2.7 assists and 17.6 minutes off the bench, shooting .412 from 3-point range.

Juan Dixon (2005-07), Toronto: 5.4 points and 12.3 minutes off the bench while shooting .471 from 3-point range and .933 at the line.

Fred Jones (2006-07), New York: 6.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.3 minutes. Has been a starter the last nine games, scoring in double figures five times.

Viktor Khryapa (2004-06), Chicago: Played one game this season, collecting seven points and five rebounds in 22 minutes on Nov. 10 against Toronto. Has been on the inactive list since.

Jamaal Magloire (2006-07), New Jersey: 2.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 13.7 minutes while shooting .286 from the field and .467 from the line.

Jeff McInnis (2002-04), Charlotte: 4.3 points and 4.3 assists in 23.7 minutes off bench.

Jermaine O'Neal (1996-2000), Indiana: 16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds in 20 games. Missed five games with a knee injury.

Ruben Patterson (2001-06), L.A. Clippers: Waived Dec. 13.

Zach Randolph (2001-07), New York: Leading the Knicks in scoring (18.5) and rebounds (10.4) while shooting .467 (.709 free throws).

Theo Ratliff (2004-06), Minnesota: 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while starting the first six games. Had arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 13.

Damon Stoudamire (1998-2005), Memphis: 7.8 points and 4.1 assists in 21.4 minutes as a starting point guard.

Sebastian Telfair (2004-06), Minnesota: Starting because Randy Foye is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Averaging 9.6 points and 5.6 assists in 31.8 minutes.

Rasheed Wallace (1996-2004), Detroit: 13.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 30.9 minutes as a starter. Five-time technicals champion is tied for the league lead with five.

Bonzi Wells (1998-2004), Houston: 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.8 minutes off the bench.

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